Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef Masters: "Cast and Crew Meal"

Illustration for article titled Top Chef Masters: "Cast and Crew Meal"

I've only been half-paying attention to this season of Top Chef Masters, which strikes me increasingly as just another way for Bravo to give everyone a Top Chef fix without giving us the actual thing. So it's entirely possible when I say this that this is an observation everyone else who watches the show made weeks ago: How is it possible that all of these people seem so BORED? They're on TV! They're competing for big money for their charities! They're in a giant reality competition! But they all seem as if they couldn't care less about what's happening, and it's really dragging the show as a whole down. I mean, I don't hate it or anything, but it sure reminds me of how much more I like the parent show.

Anyway, I had almost written tonight's episode off until the series' editors, who apparently felt similarly to me, just started leaning heavily on footage of Susur Lee, a self-proclaimed "chef gypsy," beating himself up about just how angry he was about coming in last in the quickfire challenge and swearing up a storm. I was really glad when he won at the end, simply because he's the kind of guy you want on a reality show, always stirring shit up and making everyone else feel uncomfortable. It didn't hurt that his dish in the elimination challenge is probably going to make my top ten of all Top Chef dishes I've ever wanted to eat ever. I love me some Asian food of all types, and chutney is something I almost always enjoy.

You know what else was awesome? Susur talking about how the word "master" is a very important one in Asian cultures and how he was upset that he couldn't be the master until he was. And then his wife chewed him out and told him to "go out there and fight!" I love people who are on reality shows and take the show really, ridiculously seriously, to the point where you wonder why they're not stroking out from the utter seriousness with which they regard their very lives. I don't know if Susur actually is like this or if the series was just making him seem like this for the fun, but I have to say that he definitely livened up an episode that threatened to turn deathly boring without him. Plus, he got to have the whole reality season arc of someone who seems like they're going to set the world on fire, then stumbles badly and seems overrated, before coming back to destroy everyone else with the HIGHEST SCORE IN THE HISTORY OF TOP CHEF MASTERS. THAT'S EVER. YEAH.

The rest of this episode was only OK, underscored by the fact that it had the cast and crew of Modern Family coming to enjoy the chefs' food and mostly seeming a little out of their element. Apparently, that kid that plays Manny is kind of a ham even off the set, and Ty Burrell spends a lot of time trying to seem like he's not at all like his character, really. We even got occasional shots of the show's producers (which only I would be excited about), and Jesse Tyler Ferguson turned out to be the guy who got in most of the zingers. (And that's a word that should be used more often.) It's always fun for me to see the people from my TV in a different context than I'd normally see them in, and I wasn't disappointed by the Modern Family folks.

That said, though, the whole thing where the chefs had to introduce themselves by saying just how modern THEIR family was ended up being pretty stupid, though I liked the fact that Rick was married to one woman while being the business partner of his ex-wife. The whole thing felt really strained, and having every montage be introduced by one of the chefs saying, "My family is so modern!" or some variation therein ended up being kinda lame.

But enough about that. I did like the fact that the Quickfire challenge ended up sending one of the chefs to the finals, even if it felt completely arbitrary that it was THIS Quickfire that did this. It also didn't help that the challenge itself - design the perfect fruit plate! - didn't really seem as challenging and/or complicated as something I expect from this show. It might have been better to have one of the other Quickfires be the one that sent someone to the finals, but I am having trouble thinking of which one it should have been. It also didn't help that most of the fruit plates didn't seem all that inspired - except for Susur's, which was, conservatively, fucking insane. On the other hand, I was happy that Jody Adams won, simply because she's got that calm, motherly feel, even as she talks about interrupted sex. Whoo!


Now, the elimination challenge in this episode was a little better, even if the theme of it - create a modern twist on a traditional family dinner that can satisfy everyone from the little kids on set to the burly electricians who wire the lights - was kind of vague. It was mostly just a way to have the chefs vamp about their own home lives and what their thought was when they thought about a family meal. It seemed kind of strained, and I get that that's often  the case with the challenges on the show, but I still wanted it to be a little more specific. It sometimes feels like Top Chef Masters, particularly the earlier rounds, is the Celebrity Jeopardy! of Top Chef, and that robs the early episodes of some of their tension.

And, OK, I get that I won't be the first person to make this point either, but these early rounds of the show try way too hard to squeeze in what would normally be accomplished over the course of a season into just a few minutes of TV time. We're never going to see a lot of these chefs again, yet the show tries to go out of its way to develop all of them as full-fledged characters or at least reality show types. You have the Christian chef and the sexy older lady chef and the lesbian chef, and the show has to come up with origin stories for all of them, even though only one of them is going to go on. It makes these episodes feel a little too centerless.


But, look, I really wanted to eat that roasted chicken dish, so clearly this episode was doing something right. And, if nothing else, I'm looking forward to seeing just what Susur comes up with in the weeks to come. I think we may have a new reality TV superstar on our hands here. Or at least I hope so.

Stray observations:

  • Obviously, I'm not Emily. Obviously in that I had to watch this episode three times before having any idea what to say about it and in that I completely abandoned the format I didn't even know she had. She'll be back next week.
  • I don't care. I refuse to say "cheftestants."
  • Also, Kelly Choi - and, again, I know that everyone has said this - is not only no Padma Lakshmi but is also just incredibly, incredibly boring.